Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Oh come on - it was inevitable really, wasn't it? Have a wonderful one, everybody; see you in 2009 xxx


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Doc

Today I 'officially' say goodbye to Doc (Marc Crewe) - a truly original (and extremely close) friend. To say that he'll be missed by many is an understatement. 

Doc - without meaning to be too X-Factor about it (he knows what I mean) - this one's for you:


Friday, December 26, 2008

Life's a drag?


Oooh, that was luvverly - the most traditional happy Christmas I've had in years. And now I'm about to set off for Liverpool to do it all again with family and friends up there - hoorah! While I'm away, please have fun unwrapping this (below); your comments, as always, would be most appreciated. And hey! Enjoy the last drags of 2008 (yup, every pun intended), woncha?


Panto season is upon us. Across the land, middle aged men are dressing up as women for the delight and titillation of families who love to see one of our Great British Traditions dragged out of the closet - drag, of course, being the operative word. Okay, Aladdin’s Widow Twankey may be a very distant (and rather less salubrious) relative of Brighton’s beloved Christmas cabaret star Wanda Wankey, but they more or less share the same wardrobe. Whichever way you look at is, there really is nothing like a Dame.

“Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” asked Professor Higgins as he crooned his way through ‘A Hymn to Him’ in the 1964 musical ‘My Fair Lady’, bemoaning the dirth of plain-talking, practical, emotion-free women. But 44 years on, his dreams have come true. Many women have learned that you can’t smash the glass ceiling wearing heels, a puffball skirt and a feather boa. But many also believe that attaining the illusive size zero while maintaining a surgically-enhanced 48G rack is worth risking their lives for, even though any initial acclaim for their hard work is swiftly replaced by the confused disdain of the men who suddenly see them, ironically, as unobtainable sluts. Similarly, those who don the leopard print T-shirt/mini skirt/teetering thigh boot combo much vaunted as ‘The December Must-Have Outfit’ in the current issue of Vogue soon discover that, away from those glossy pages, the term ‘party girl’ has a very different meaning. Put simply, the politics that surround being an authentic, womanly woman (glamour and brains – such a heady combination!) have become very, very confused. Consequently, men handle it far better.

Shirley Bassey, Liza Minnelli, Barbara Streisand: if you want to see the classic divas – women who don’t give a flying frou-frou about how threatened they make men feel - at their very best, go and see a drag act (as much as we love the originals, a holiday in Vegas is a lot to pay for an hour in their company). While you’re there, you’ll probably also discover exactly why the current crop of young pretenders just don’t have what it takes - once you’ve seen Clarissa Hole give us her Cheryl Cole, you’ll wish Girls Aloud would shut up and let the pros take over. As for Kylie, Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Leona Lewis and even Sarah Palin (vile, but in this context, irresistible): you know they’re true contemporary icons because the nation’s top female impersonators impersonate them. And, in true post-modern zeitgeist style, our favourite preening popsicles pay public homage in return; if the thought of Kylie dressed as a man dressed as a woman confuses you, you clearly weren’t in the audience on her last tour. But such a crossover is hardly a new twist. Coronation Street, the nation’s favourite soap, is a veritable hotbed of drag-bag inspiration. Who did Rita Fairclough base her original sense of style on if not cross-dressing veteran Danny LaRue? Where would Lily Savage have been without Bet Lynch as a role model? And if Alec Gilroy’s close connection to Ada Shufflebotham doesn’t ultimately prove my point, the Hailey Cropper storyline will.

So, if female impersonators are a Great British Tradition, this is one institution I want full membership to. I want all the false eyelashes, fake fur and fishnet stockings I can get my hands on. I want to spend my evenings belting out ‘I Will Survive’ in front of a sequined curtain, surrounded by dry ice. I want to be the ‘exasperating, irritating, vacillating, calculating, agitating, maddening, infuriating hag!’ that so riled Professor Higgins, not the neat, sweet, unchallenging dullard that magazines like ‘Woman’s Own’ wants all women to be. But these days, only gentlemen seem to have what it takes to be real ladies. This year, I recommend that you watch the Queen’s Christmas speech very closely; it’s my bet that she’s handed the crown over to Paul O’Grady.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

If you do...

...make the most of it!



It's for one day only, folks!

Have a wonderful one

xxx

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Christmas from the Animal Disco


In fact, I wish everybody a very happy everything, for always. Have a great one, girls and boys! I'm off to steam the plum pudding and preen that partridge...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Not just for Christmas


And so it came to pass that the family came to visit (which was wonderful) and Doc (Marc Crewe - Venue's Food and Drink editor) died in his sleep while they were here. Swings and roundabouts, eh? No, not really - I am of course being inappropriately flippant. By the time we set off for Luxembourg on Wednesday morning (at least, I think it was last Wednesday), I was seriously wondering how much emotion a girl can take. 

I love my family so much it hurts -  a realisation that may or may not have been exacerbated by all the shite I've recently put them through, now long since healed and passed. I also very much loved Doc: he was - in his own, very unique way - a truly original, inspirational friend, and a brilliant writer too. I am of course writing a mini obituary any moment now - just as soon as I can get my head around the fact that I'll be writing in the past tense about someone who was such a huge presence in my life. I've also - somewhere in a stack of notebooks - already written loads about Luxembourg, Baden Baden and Worms - yes, there is a place called Worms! - and being reunited with the soldier boy in the family...and all that came with that. I would spew forth and share...if time allowed me such a luxury. But today, I'll be busy dragging my sorry ass around town (now there's a unique take on the traditional manger scene) and finishing off the Christmas shopping. 

All in all, I guess life goes on, and those you really love and miss are carried around in your heart forever. Sentimental, moi? N'est ce pas.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Temporary suspension of service at the Animal Disco


The Animal Disco has gone to Luxembourg until Sunday. Please come back when I do! And have fun while I'm away.

xxx

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Stay Karm


I went out with the girls I don’t see very often last night (yes, real, actual women; not the other type of ‘girls’ that I’m prone to hanging out with) – and what a joy it was too! One of the gaggle couldn’t make it (and was duly sadly missed); the rest of us – well, we did what girls do best: gossiped, giggled, and generally looked gorgeous. When it came to home time, I went to get a cab at the taxi rank by the Abbey.

The driver was monosyllabic, but that suited me fine – I’d done my fair share of yakking. When we stopped outside my house, the fare on the meter read £4.70. “That’ll be £5.30”, mumbled the driver, suddenly finding his voice. “£5.30?”, I queried. “It’s gone midnight”, he replied. It hadn’t. The clock on his dashboard read 11.52pm. “That clock is slow”, he said, anticipating my next question; “either pay the fare or I’ll drive you to the police station”. Charming! But what did I do? Wimped out, and handed £5.50 over. “Thanks for the tip”, he said. “I’m not giving you a tip”, I said. “I’m not scrabbling around in the dark for 20p”, he replied. Yuk!

So off I ran, like the frightened little girl that I’m most definitely not, mumbling something in my own head about karma etc (his: bad; mine: good) and thinking, oh for goodness sake, if he’s so desperate for an extra 90p, let him have it. But I climbed the stairs to my flat thinking, why oh why oh why do so many men so casually abuse their status, thinking to themselves, “here’s a woman on her own who I can bully into giving me what I want”? In this case – thank God – all he wanted was money that he’d neither earned or deserved. Let’s hope for everybody’s sake that that’s as far as his desperation ever gets him.

Me fella went mildly ballistic when I told him the story, pointing out that he’d offered to drive into town and pick me up (which he had), and begging me to report the cab driver to the relevant authorities. But I didn’t report anybody to anyone – except myself, to bed – fully confident that karma thing would work against the cab driver. And guess what happened next…

I was listening to local radio this morning – not something I usually do, ever, but the radio remote control was covered in toffee sauce (don’t ask!) and the station was stuck on Bath FM. Apparently, a taxi driver turned out of (insert name of my road here) and onto the Wellsway last night (the road that leads down the hill into town), slid on a patch of black ice and crashed headlong into the bus stop. The driver wasn’t badly hurt, but the car was mashed. It happened around midnight. Some clocks keep time perfectly.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Moving on (at last)


Seeing as I can't run off and join the Foreign Legion (okay, I probably could if I really wanted to, but things ain't that bad), I thought I'd move things along here a bit - I've bored even myself with my whingeing about old news. Hope youze all had a good weekend, kids!

Being a softie liberal who believes that ‘awareness’ can make a difference to an horrific situation (hence someone who considers herself to be reasonably well-informed when it comes to global politics), I force myself to watch endless news footage highlighting the carnage and misery caused by man’s endless thirst for world domination. Apart from that, the nearest I’ve ever been to anything like a warzone was living in a flat in Toxteth, Liverpool when the riots took place, while the closest I’ve ever been to someone actively involved with the Armed Forces was when I gave 50p to a veteran in exchange for a poppy in the lead-up to Memorial Sunday. Until now.

Someone close enough to me to be called family – let’s call him Soldier X - has joined the Territorial Army and gone off to Afghanistan. Prior to the announcement of his departure, whatever debates about the current global, political climate have been brought to – and, on occasion, fought over – my dinner table have rarely involved an element absolutely intrinsic to the whole issue: were it not for the thousands of service men and women (all of whom, let’s not forget, today sign up for such a career entirely of their own free will), would any of us be in the luxurious position of being able to philosophise and pontificate so freely today?

While it’s an indisputable fact that many atrocities and wrongdoings have been committed by the west in the name of ‘democracy’ in recent years, it’s also true that, no matter how strong our allegiance to organisations such as Amnesty International and womenforwomen.org may be, most of us are far, far removed, in so many ways, from the people we so passionately want justice for. But I’ve sat and listened to armchair philanthropists - who claim to be diehard pacifists, natch - drone on about how al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban (who harbour and protect them) “fight to make a valid point”. Try telling that to the father of the waitress who burnt to death in the World Trade Tower, the daughter of the social worker blown up in a bus on Tavistock Square, the Afghani woman who last week had her back broken by a leather whip for uncovering her face in a public place, or the family of the Christian Aid worker gunned down in Kabul. Indeed, try telling that to anybody with a friend or loved one currently fighting for peace on the front lines.

The base salary of a private soldier in the UK army is less than that of a bus driver in Bath. Much of the equipment the British Armed Forces have to work with is older than the buses they drive. No matter how bad traffic gets around the Abbey, I doubt that 14% of drivers are likely to suffer the dire effects of post traumatic stress after a 13-month stint on the job - and to my knowledge, not many of them risk losing limbs during an average shift, either. Now you may call my comparisons ‘trite’, but I call them an awareness raising exercise. Prior to my current personal experience, I’d have probably been writing a very different piece today, perhaps being cynical about the X Factor charity single currently residing at the top of the UK charts (the profits of which are shared between the Help For Heroes charity and the Royal British Legion appeal) or blithely accusing those who join the Armed Forces of being part of a problem rather than a solution and disputing their national status as ‘heroes’. As it is, I now believe we have people like Soldier X – and all those who went before him - to thank for all kinds of freedoms that I used to take for granted ... not least of all the luxury of dinner table debates.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Yesterday's news

And so it came to pass that the week rolled along, as weeks tend to do.

In the time that’s passed since my last, panicky post here, I’ve pretty much been permanently riding an emotional escalator. On the work front, I’ve considered giving up writing professionally (publicly?) completely, accepted three major national broadsheet feature commissions, sacked my agent, been sacked by my agent, sorted things out with my agent…and written lots of stuff for Venue and Folio (magazines which I now respect and appreciate more than ever before).

I’ve been out with The Bears, scoffed a scuzz, seen Simply Red at the 02 Arena and enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon with Medad (who knows nothing about the whole sorry drama that started last Saturday and ain’t over yet) (and, I hope, never will). I’ve had several difficult phone calls with my mum and my sister, and started my apology campaign by dispatching a huge bouquet to Liverpool. And I’ve had an incredible amount of honest, proper, genuine support and comments from very dear friends, without whom I’d have probably turned to the sherry for solace.

So how am I doing inside? Frustrated, sad, angry; confused, enraged, calm. One part of me wishes I’d never written ‘it’ in the first place; the other part of me – larger, I think? –wishes I could be understood for doing what I did. I wish just one family member – niece, mum’s husband? – would pop in here every so often; then perhaps they would understand what my job – indeed, my compulsion to write – is actually all about. I understand and accept their hurt and feelings of betrayal. The sad thing is, I thought that perhaps they might understand me a little bit better as a result of ‘it’. Okay, my words ended up a bit twisted on the published page (a fact that I know they’ll never, ever accept or even want to hear anything more about), but I’m still me, and they’re still them, and I really love them, and none of that has changed. Except it has - and I don’t know when – or if – they’ll ever change back to where we were before last Saturday.

Last year (Sunday November 18th, according to my friendly archivist) I published a post here labeled ‘This Functional Family’. It’s just one of many, many posts – and indeed, very publicly published features – that totally sum up what my family mean to me. It’s a great shame that the only one we’ll probably ever discuss is the one that I’ll now forever refer to as ‘it’, and feel nothing but horribleness when I even think about what happened as a result.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Also in yesterday's Grauniad...

Yesterday Part 2:


Gemini

21 May-20 Jun

'Keep calm and carry on' - the government's advice to the citizenry during the war - makes a good fit for a 'scope in which warrior Mars is keen to pick a scrap. Before you respond, make sure you're not outgunned. Practical affairs offer more promise, especially since, against all odds, your missing bingo number looks set to get called.

Missing bingo number? I reckon it's still hidden in the rubble...

I wasn't going to mention what happened today here until the emotional dust has settled.  But as this blog has already attracted scores of new visitors on the strength of it (I guess all they had to do was google my name), I feel I owe everybody some sort of explanation. But having spent a great deal of today not only talking about 'it' to my family but constantly dealing with ongoing, draining, fluctuating thought-attacks inside my own head, I'm uncharacteristically stuck for words. 

If you don't know what I'm talking about, I'm not going to provide a link - not because I'm ashamed of what I've done (although in a way I am, but I'll explain why at another time), but because I feel that 'it' doesn't represent the 'me' I am today, OR the wonderful relationship I have with my family. And is all this my own fault? Not entirely. I can't say any more about certain 'practical' issues that have to be dealt with on Monday, but what I can say is that the feelings of those closest to me have been hurt - and it honestly isn't all my fault. 

Right now, one part of me is burning up with a horrible kind of flaming anger. Another - perhaps bigger - part of me wants to wrap my family up in cotton wool and tell them that I'm sorry, sorry, sorry. But mostly, all I'm experiencing now is an over-riding urge to sleep. It'll be easier in the morning? You have no idea how much I hope this is the case.

I'm sorry if none of this is making any sense to you (although it might, to my new readers). The thing is, none of today is making any sense at all to me, either. The only person things do seem to be making sense to is my mum - My Mother The Hero, actually. I can't tell her how much I love her (well I can, and I do, but I feel as though I can't say it enough). 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

And to think...Christmas is just around the corner!


What have you been up to? I hear you ask. Actually, I don’t hear any such thing, but seeing as you’ve dropped by today, I guess you’re wondering. If I’m right, wonder no more:

I’ve been working, but in the happiest, most eclectic of ways: updating Bath’s newest food guide, writing about Bath’s newest entertainment venue, eating at one of Bath’s newest restaurants. The shock of the new? Not really; just dear old lovely Bath, made even dearer and lovelier by these recent arrivals. I’ve been stressing over writing a very personal piece that’ll be appearing in a major British broadsheet next weekend, and now I wish I’d never written it at all, but it’s too late to pull out now. I’ve been teaching teenagers to write (ha! A triple-whammy of contradictions linger behind that last sentence), and I’ve had an enormous amount of trouble squeezing a payment cheque out of a brand new publication I was commissioned to write a couple of pieces for, but that’s all sorted now, so there’s no point in naming and shaming (and anyway, the editor’s a good egg, but in that Ralph Gorse/Bounder, Terry in Minder way – you wouldn’t want to mess with him, even in the blogosphere). Oh, and I’ve just scribbled two mouthy opinion pieces, one on those who join Britain’s Armed Forces, another on why I want to be a man in drag. Patience, please! You should know by now that I have to wait until after Venue magazine has published them before I share them here…

I’ve been out quite a bit, too: watching Roddy Frame on the opening night of the aforementioned Komedia, and attending The Great Australian Drag Show the following evening (I’m sure you can guess which event I had the most fun at). I’ve been to half a cheese tasting evening at GP, and a posh lunch at the new branch of Harvey Nichols in Bristol’s Cabot Circus with the same crew. There have been several curry house sessions, a rather decent French-themed evening with MeDad and a very pleasant supper at a friend’s house in the nearby countryside, after which we all went to the local pub quiz and roundly trounced the regulars by winning by a country mile. As a result, my waistband is sending my jeans serious distress signals, so now I’m on a serious diet (which doesn’t, I’m happy to say, preclude me from comparing and contrasting the merits and delights of the Traditional Sunday Roast Dinner versus the one-pot, slow-cooked casserole three nights a week, at home).

I have been mostly reading or rereading anything by Jonathan Coe (I interviewed him recently and decided that he’s Where It’s At in terms of contemporary novelists) and back copies of weekend newspaper supplements that I never seem to be able to catch up with. I’ve also been listening – a lot! – to Tony Christie’s new album, ‘Made in Sheffield’; as soon as his version of the Human League hit ‘Hello Louise’ is available on YouTube, I’ll be sharing it with you here. Meanwhile, if you can get your hands on the album, do so; it’s properly emotionally dramatic, and glamorous in that wonderfully understated Roy Orbison/Johnny Cash/Gene Pitney way…which of course took me all the way back to Marc Almond, which then led on to Shirley Bassey – doesn’t everything, always? Later on today, I’m sure to be mostly listening to Queen’s Greatest Hits…

And while all this has been going on, I’ve been missing regular updates from fellow bloggers KirkbyGirl and H Factor (where have you gone, girls?), but have really enjoyed frolicking with Marmite Lover, who gets ever more fascinating post by post. I’ve sorely missed spending quality time with Molly Mud, who I haven’t seen properly since we got shamefacedly legless after the Bath Film Festival opening night party, aaages ago – a situation which is sure to be rectified by the time my next post comes around, because I’m gonna make darn sure it does. And I haven’t heard whimper nor whisper from Joe, the man who is supposed to be making my doggie dreams come true this Christmas – ditto the declaration just made about darn sure-ing.

But enough about me. What have you been up to? Please let me know…I’ve missed you!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thinking about food (as usual...)


Cooking is easy. There’s no great skill involved in reading a recipe, buying the ingredients and following the dot-to-dot instructions that have been laid out for you by someone who’s done it a thousand times already - as long as you choose Delia Smith over Heston Blumenthal, anybody can be a Jamie Oliver. What’s not easy, though, is owning up to the real reason behind such an activity. I believe that there’s more psychology going on in the kitchen then there is in any other room in the house; the bedroom may be a minefield of Freud-related anecdotal evidence, but when it comes to what we voluntarily offer to put in other people’s mouths at the dining room table, a sausage is no longer just a sausage.

Cooking for six people, in your own home, involves a lot of work. But I’m not ashamed to admit that, for me, it’s one heck of a power trip - a reliable way of ‘buying’ trust, limelight, gratitude and even a kind of love. For some, having a stovetop full of pots to fuss over is a way of overcoming shyness; for others, the dinner party is a chance to show off how much they can afford to spend. But there’s really no shame in admitting any of this. Rather than swim against the invisible tides that carry us back to the kitchen, identifying your personal reasons for throwing yourself headlong into the world of food (and millions of us do it, whether via magazines, books and TV shows, or by regularly cooking up a storm at home) can ultimately only make you an even better foodie; after all, all the best chefs are slightly psychotic.

But while most men are happy to scoff whatever is put in front of them, many women go through a whole gamut of emotions, considerations and judgment calls before they raise fork to mouth. Take ‘first date food’: pasta, for example, is a no-no-no – there’s no room for instant bloat in a size 10 LBD, slippery strands of spaghetti play havoc with lipgloss and the, erm, ‘wind’ potential is way too risky to gamble with. Meanwhile, seafood is too salacious, Tex-Mex is common and curry is downright blokeish. Anything French, though, makes us look sophisticated, and salad is a safe all-rounder; we’ll go home starving, but at least we’ll have looked all delicate and pretty while gazing into your eyes. But what do we go home to? Chocolate - which fluctuates between being a girl’s best friend or a potential WMD. Advertisers are well aware of this: consider the bar of Galaxy stashed in an underwear drawer, the woman who has to flash her underwear to co-workers because the calorie count in a bag of Maltesers ‘isn’t naughty enough’ or the iconographic, phallic imagery that promotes a Cadbury’s Flake and tell me that women and chocolate have a healthy relationship?

Such complicated psychology gets even trickier when it comes to shopping. I know women who carry pristine Waitrose carrier bags folded up in their handbags when heading off to shop at Lidl, burn ready meal packets rather than put them out in the Green Box for all the road to see and decant Nescafe into an ancient FairTrade-labelled jar before their friends drop in for coffee. In Girl World, it seems, You Are What You’re Seen To Eat. In my world, beef masala ravioli with a side of chicken wings and a hot chocolate sauce maketh the woman.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

And another thing...


As a result of extreme exploitation, many words and phrases in the gastronomic lexicon have turned into little more than tired, hackneyed clichés, to be used by PR officers only. Take gastropub, comfort food and even poor old delicious; so distorted is their meaning today that to include them on a menu or even in a restaurant review is lazy (and usually insincere). But to see a phrase that at one time was laden with such noble intention turned into nothing more than off-pat blurb is truly depressing.

Until fairly recently, a statement promising locally sourced, largely organic food was a reliable indicator that you were about to feast on a plate laden with good taste. But increasingly, noble intentions seem to have been lost in translation. Last week, I was served ‘spring lamb’ garnished with ‘local’ asparagus, followed by a ‘seasonal’ fruit salad that contained pineapples, papaya and pomegranate seeds at a ‘gastropub’ (see what I mean?) that claims extremely saintly credentials. Elsewhere on the menu, I couldn’t help drawing attention to mahi mahi that ain’t never gonna be found swimming around the Cornish coast, no matter how dire Al Gore’s predictions. Indeed, the inconvenient truth on Planet Food is that some restaurateurs are casting a very wide net when it comes to local and/or sustainable sourcing, while others are striving harder than ever support local producers. While not everybody who eats out wants a side-order of ethics served up with every morsel on the plate, the vast majority of people don’t want to be lied to, either.

When it comes to the reputation of any eatery, one rotten apple has the potential to ruin the whole barrel. If you’re served slices mango in your ‘seasonal’ crumble this autumn, do the honourable thing and quietly remind the chef where we live.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The knives are out...


In most British cities, restaurateurs welcome a ‘celebrity chef’ to the fold with gusto, seeing their arrival as an endorsement that their turf is on the UK food map, viewing the competition as a challenge and welcoming the inevitable waiting list overspill to their already established businesses. But not in Bath. Despite being a long-term, public supporter of the city that I call home, I’ve recently found myself having to dodge verbal blows at dinner parties, bars and even as I walk down the street – all because I’ve committed the apparently heinous crime of interviewing Jamie Oliver before going on to favourably review his recently opened restaurant.

I’ve been accused of ‘selling out’ (oh, how quaint!), ‘betraying’ local businesses (despite the fact that Jamie’s Italian employs hundreds of locals and relies heavily on local producers) and ‘licking corporate arse’. I’ve been told that Jamie doesn’t do face-to-face interviews (that was one heck of a talented actor I spent an afternoon with, then), that none of his chefs have been trained and that Gennaro Contaldo – Jamie’s ‘mentor’, currently overseeing proceedings at the Bath branch – doesn’t actually exist. As for the food: according to the naysayers, the packet soup purveyors have never had it so good.

And when they’re not slagging Jamie off with all the vitriol they can muster, they’re whining about how demand for their £16 main courses (£19.50 if you want three carrots with that) has fallen, totally overlooking the fact that their (totally untrained) staff can’t manage to get those dishes onto the tables in less than 45 minutes and their chef is busy working tinned pomegranate juice, New Zealand lamb and pineapples into their ‘locally sourced, largely organic’ menus.

‘Brasserie Blanc’ opens in Bath next year. The self-defence course beckons...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Time, pie, Soldier X and Cher


I love it when the clocks go back. Not only does the fact that man can actually adapt Mother Nature’s plans to suit ourselves (well, sorta) give me an almost childlike feeling of “we’re doing something naughty”, but somehow the ‘extra’ hour has an impact on the whole day, often continuing into Halloween week (when I was little, I thought long, dark nights were created for this date alone). By this evening, I know that I’m going to feel as though the day was stretched out by a whole third, just because my internal body clock is still settling down. And goodness knows, extra hours in the day are always, always a good thing.

This morning, I woke up at 5.30am; an hour earlier than my usual wake-up time, despite the fact that I’d adjusted all the clocks (and my alarm clock) before I went to bed last night. So I got up and enjoyed the feelings of exclusivity that being one of only a handful of people happily awake at that hour of a Sunday morning brings while I pondered the individual merits of autumn fruit crumbles, cobblers and pies (the pies won – there’ll be an apple one going into the oven this afternoon, to be enjoyed after a very traditional roast lamb dinner). Some might say that I wasted my ‘extra hour’; tell that to Medad as he embarks on his third slice of custard-drenched pud.

But despite the fact that the official time change didn’t happen until 1am this morning, yesterday didn’t quite run according to the traditional clock anyway. Mefella and I got up at 5am to drive to Brize Norton to wave Soldier X off on his way to Afghanistan (eek!). We weren’t allowed onto the actual airbase itself, so we stood by the fence that surrounds the airfield, having texted him our orientation details, and watched his plane readying itself for takeoff from afar. Two others landed first: huge, heavy-bellied, dung-coloured beasts that caused two trainspotters to flurry around with gusto, dashing up and down the lane adjusting lens caps on the cameras as they went. Then it was time to watch the main event: after several goodbyes over the past couple of weeks (we all kept thinking he was off, then he wasn’t), this was it. I leapt up and down and waved as largely as I could, the pilot waved back (oh god, how embarrassing!) and within seconds they were off, blasting down the runway and lifting up into the early morning skies as gracefully as an eagle. Did I cry? Oh of course I did! I won’t see Soldier X for months now, and he’s a big part of both me and Mefella’s life. This is not the time or the place for pontificating, philosophising or debating the politics of war, so I’m not going to. All that’s left to say is that I’ll miss Soldier X, I hope he’s safe and I wish him well.

After all the excitement and emotion, I wanted the services a Little Chef, and I wanted those services now. But instead of heading for some faceless British A-road, we followed our noses along Oxfordshire’s ridiculously pretty country lanes (I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many thatched cottages!) to the gorgeous village of Bampton, where we found an extraordinarily decent breakfast in a lovely little café whose doors no doubt opened five seconds before we turned up. Having ordered a feast, we made the short trot to the newsagent for the weekend papers, meeting an excitable puppy and a very friendly butcher along the way. All in all, Bampton is the real life version of Camberwick Green (only British readers of a certain vintage will know what I’m referring to here, so I’ve added a link). Having said that, I’m not sure that Mrs Honeyman paid £450,000 for her centrally located cottage.

Anyway, now I’m back in Bath, having fallen asleep slumped in front of the TV last night – no further excitement to report. Today I will be mostly roasting lamb (and making apple pie), catching up with the X Factor, looking forward to this evening’s BBC drama about Barbara Cartland and toying with the idea of washing my hair (the one component of my plans which probably won’t happen after all). Oh, and thinking how turning back the clock ten years would save me the small fortune that I so trustingly hand over to the snake oil merchants who sell me false promises (yes L’Oreal, that’s you) on a regular basis. Anyway, have a super Sunday, and enjoy today’s blast of nostalgia: this one’s appropriate, I feel, on many levels.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Girls will, like, totally get this


7am, and there isn't any coffee in the house. Worse, there isn't any milk either, so I can't even have extra-strong tea. And heaven help us all if Beloved doesn't have a banana in his lunchbox! So off I go up to the local shops, having been out of bed all of ten minutes, wearing pajama bottoms that have seen much better days, a manky old Depeche Mode tour t-shirt (1987, if you must know) and a denim jacket with blobs of what looks like melted cheese but could be something much worse on the collar. My hair thinks we're all still in bed (and who am I to break the news to it?) and as for make up, forget it; my eyes haven't even opened properly yet.

All's quiet in the Co-op, so I've more or less got the shop all to myself, apart from a few friendly shelf-packers whose sartorial elegance is more or less on par with my own. At the till, I have the usual little chat with the lovely girl who works there, adapted to circumstance and time of day: how milk seems to magically disappear from the fridge, imagine a morning without coffee, etc. And then ...

"Well good morning. What are you doing shopping at such a ridiculously early hour?".

Now it could have been worse - it could have been someone I really, really fancy (or worse still, and ex who dumped me for someone glamorous). But the fact that it was a boy (to me, they're all boys until they hit the age of 30) that everyone at the theatre where I sometimes work fancies was good enough reason for me to turn completely, ridiculously pink and flustered ... which, of course, is sure to lead the boy in question to believe that I've got the hots for him, despite the fact that I'm happily unmarried to the long-term chunk of hunk who's snoring away in our bed, just down the road.

"BlahBlahBlah!," I waffle, trying to look pleased to see him. "You know - bleurghety bleurgh bleurgh!."

Okay, I will have managed to put some sort of polite sentence together, but it can't have been anything human-sounding. And anyway, regardless of what crap I came out with, his enduring memory of the whole event is more likely to be how (a) 'undressed' I was (when I turn up at the theatre, I'm usually wearing proper clothes), (b) how wretched I look without make up (and how much I must usually shovel on to not look this way) and (c) how mad my untamed hair actually is. He might also have been thinking, "crikey, what's that strange smell?" (the jacket hasn't seen soap and water in a long, long time). He, by the way, looked all sort of fresh, and polished, and ... well, catwalky! And he'll definitely, definitely be recalling the tale fo how he came across me this morning to everyone we share an office with right now, as I write.

He was buying cigarettes. "At least you're buying something sensible!", I trill, as I make a desperate attempt to get out of the shop without my pajama bottoms falling down (needless to say, I wasn't wearing knickers). At. Least. Your. Buying. Something. Sensible. What the hell did that mean???

Ah, but, you know; at least we had milk and coffee with our breakfast. And Beloved has his banana, too. I just hope he appreciates the humiliation I went through to get it ...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

So what's it all about?


What is the purpose of a blog? Now that blogs are firmly established in the plethora of modern media, it's a question that many ponder - not least of all the bloggers themselves; indeed, it's the Big Question that ends the TV documentary series I've been involved in - the one where me and other bloggers from around the country (none of whom I've never even met) blurt on and on, to camera, about what's increasingly seen as an 'egotistical' hobby.

But blogging, in my experience, isn't egotistical at all. The blogs I follow (and they've all been given big shout-outs here) are way more than mere diaries of nobodies; they're informative, enlightening, thoughtfully written and totally fascinating, written by people with similarly charming, engaging personalities. Egotistical? Incredibly generous, more like. Okay, many of us are prone to publicly diarising the trivia of our everyday lives (heck, I love sharing the details of food I've cooked and eaten, with whom and where, and what happened next). But if you're happy to read it, I'm more than happy to write such stuff - indeed, I can't help it; to me, writing is a hugely addictive compulsion. For sure, I'm lucky enough to have been able to turn that compulsion into a paid job (albeit a not very well paid one), but sometimes, journalism brings with it a seriously mind-numbing set of frustrations and limitations. I like to waffle freely - and here, I can do just that. Well, sort of...

Copyright, idea theft and plagiarism: for bloggers who write fiction, those three issues constitute our Big Three Fears - and rightly so. But now that I've found myself a reliable literary agent (I've just signed my life away to her - hoorah!), I can be entirely confident about posting any original pieces (ie, either not formerly published in Venue, or simply not worth stealing or plagiarising) here. So today, I can reveal a few notes from one of the projects that the aforementioned agent is excited about, safe in the knowledge that the words and even the ideas are all legally protected, so woe betide any sneak thieves (by the way, I highly recommend that my literary blogger friends take similar precautions - there are some nasty people out there).

So we've come full circle, I guess, from the point where we started off today: are bloggers so egotistical that they honestly believe that not only are they going to facilitate a huge fanbase, but that someone out there might actually go to the trouble of 'stealing' their electronically-scribbled thoughts? The thing is, if a writer doesn't harbour such paranoid fears at the back of their confused, befuddled minds, they don't think their writing is worth much at all. But as far as I'm concerned, if the tight-knit little band of merry men and women who read my words here genuinely enjoy what I'm writing, then I've already made it in my chosen 'career'. And if you want to print the pages and use them to line your hamster's cage, I'd be honoured.

Anyway, ladies and gentlemen: today, I can exclusively reveal part one of one of the two writing projects that are set to keep me busy over the next few months. The other is a bit more chick-litty, I'm afraid - but even that will get its spotlight moment here soon. For now, I give you:


Medad - A User's Manual

This is the story of me and my dad: an eccentric, unique relationship, the machinations, drama and history of which are at once both bursting to be written about and reluctant to be revealed.

On the day I started writing this, I was full of plans. I knew how I was going to start, I knew what I wanted to say, I knew exactly where I was going with this … or so I thought. Then I sat at the computer with ‘Deal or No Deal’ on in the background, a cup of tea by my side … and a blank page in front of me.

I’d not long ago left my dad at a bus stop in town – him going off in one direction, me in the other. Earlier that day, a family friend who I hadn’t seen for 20-odd years had turned to me halfway through a reunion lunch at one of Bath’s prettiest cafés and asked me why, when I'm not writing about restaurants or comedians or cushion covers, I don’t write about me and my dad. “It’s an amazing story,” she said. And the thing is, I suspect she may be right.

So, after all the years of ego battles, emotional warfare, total dereliction of responsibility on his behalf and many, many incredible moments, I’m doing what the psychologists (and trust me, there have been a few on my case, as you’ll learn) may say is playing right into his hands by writing a book that is indeed all about him. But I don’t need a man with a PhD to explain why I’m doing it; the truth is, I know it’ll make a good read – for you, for me, and for everybody who is still lucky enough to have a male parent to take care of.

My dad’s version of this story started over four decades ago, on the 22nd May 1964. He says that from the moment he looked into my eyes he knew I was “his”. If I, as a minutes-old baby, was as fast off the mark as he credited me as being, I suspect I might have come straight back at him with a response that today would be seen as a typical exchange between him and I: “oh shut up, dad – this isn’t about you”. But here I am 44 years later, sitting here with my tea and my crap TV, and actually … well right now, it is, isn’t it?

Part One: The Good, the Bad and the downright Ugly... to be continued!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Autumnal Contrasts


If I may be so cheeky as to refer to the view from my window as my garden, then I must say that everything in that garden is looking lovely - the trees look absolutely amazing, with their purple, gold and bronze leaves winning their battle against the green. I was gazing out at this display when I saw the plane that's carrying my best friend off to New York as I write taking off from the airport. I watched it until it turned into a dot on the horizon, sending him my warmest wishes as it soared and disappeared, hoping that he too was enjoying this glorious autumnal fashion show from his unique perspective. He doesn't know it, but this morning I planted 'good luck, safe return' spells in the boots he'll be wearing. Gosh, I'm a sentimental old fool!

I should be telling you all about my holiday, shouldn't I? Trouble is, Mike still hasn't transferred the photos over to my computer; being a Luddite, I can't do it, and this time around I really want to illustrate my tales. I have to warn you, though - most of my pics feature dogs or huge plates of food. Guess I'll filch some of Mike's clever, artistic ones, just to keep interest levels up ... talking of which, mine (interest levels, that is) are all over the place right now; life's a bit of an emotional balancing act. I have dinner and an overnight stay at a very, very posh country house hotel to look forward to later (Ston Easton Park, if you're interested), but another farewell on the near horizon, when someone close enough to be classed as a family member heads for Afghanistan this weekend. I had a wonderful time at Jamie Oliver's new Bath restaurant t'other night, all the time trying hard to keep the worry about a friend of mine who was awaiting serious medical test results the following day on a back burner. As it happens, the results were better than we'd all hoped for (and I'm happy to report that Jamie's place is ace, too - I'll post my review here next week). But d'you see what I mean about a balancing act? Bach Flower Remedies, that's what I need! And while I go off to bolster supplies, here's a little bit of daftness from the Venue Food and Drink pages for you to mull over, bearing in mind that tongues must be positioned firmly in cheek throughout. See you soon!

A Lidl bit of advice

As a food writer, you all need me to tell you how to deal with the dreadful financial crisis that I believe you’re all experiencing. So this week, I’ve been shopping in a food emporium that isn’t Waitrose to help you find the really cheap food that you’re all supposed to be living on. Goodness, what an experience! For a start, this ‘supermarket’ (not that there’s anything ‘super’ about it – ha ha!) has such a strange name; I think it might possibly be German, or even – dare I say it? – Polish. And not only do they not offer a shopping service – they don’t even offer trolleys! My cameraman had to put all his equipment around his neck so he could lug a cardboard box around for me, and then, as there weren’t any staff to be found, he had to take things of the shelves himself! I mean, really – that’s not shopping, is it?

But goodness, there were bargains to be found, especially if you live on tinned sausages, red cabbage in jars and dusty plastic shoes. I brought half a pound of ‘Country Lady’ butter for 12p (£6 cheaper than my usual brand! ), a bag of ‘Golden Spoons’ sugar for 3p and two frozen chickens for a pound (Lord Hugely Fearful-Witless and I will enjoy a good giggle about that next time we have supper!). Then I grabbed a wedge of ‘Parmesanish’ cheese (sixpence), a bar of ‘Fairy Milk’ chocolate (one groat), six bottles of ‘Prosicko’ (tuppence ha’penny) and a bottle of ‘Juma Jin’ (seven toenails). There! Enough to feed an average family of six for a week, for a fraction of what one normally spends on a packet of organic quinoa. What fun! If you find somewhere equally soul-destroying to shop, please do let me know.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

While I'm still sorting through my anecdotal (and photographic) evidence ...


...I thought I might as well share this review of 'Waves' (below) with you. I'm not sure if it's touring, but if it is, I urge you to go and see it if you can. Now where did I put that picture of me binging on Roquefort ...?

Waves

Part play, part poem, part prose; possibly a dream, perhaps an illuminating (if highly personal) analysis of how memory, friendship and emotion affect the psyche: Virginia Woolf’s 1931 novel The Waves may be many things to many people, but it’s nothing if not fascinating. Decades after publication, what might loosely be referred to as a collection of dreamlike monologues charting the innermost thoughts and personal experiences of a collection of friends as they make the journey from childhood to maturity is hailed as one of the most experimental, innovative literary endeavours ever published. But does the tale – if one can call it that – translate to the stage? In the hands of acclaimed director Katie Mitchell, Woolf’s dreams literally do come true ... and on-stage ‘reality’ has never been so enthralling.

Mitchell does not rely on mere dialogue alone to take the audience on this fractured (and often fractious) journey. Complex staging techniques seamlessly combine live and recorded film footage with projections, song, dance and a simple but evocative soundtrack – rustling leaves, footsteps in the distance, those crashing waves themselves and powerful silences – resulting in a deep sensory overload and creating a form of narrative arc that the novel’s detractors say doesn’t exist. This National Theatre production also gives depth to the often misused term ‘ensemble piece’: each of the eight actors gives authenticity to each other’s roles, while without the skills of the technical crew who work behind the scenes, there would be little to feast on but fleshless bones.

Overall, it’s a brave, mesmerising, elegantly-wrought production; thought-provoking, moving, candid and witty. In creating an intelligent, sensitive homage to Woolf’s novel, Mitchell has successfully brought the cinematic, multi-media experience to the stage without detracting, in any way, from the classic theatrical experience. Genius.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bonjour!


I'm back! And goodness, I feel as though I've been away for a month, not just a mere seven nights - perhaps because those seven nights were spent in seven different French towns/cities, from Millau to Beziers, taking in Arles, Avignon and Nimes (and several more obscure lunch spots) along the way, with the wonderful, gorgeous Cassis (via Ciotat) towards the end making for an unforgettable highlight of the whole trip. Looking back, I guess that's why I feel so exhausted right now; seeing as the actual flight time to and from drizzly Brizzle is less than two hours, I can hardly claim jet lag. But oh, it was all wonderful - a little odd and emotional in some ways (most of my French experiences involve Medad; this one didn't) but mainly glorious. Expect anecdotes (with accompanying photos) over the coming days, and menu details for the foodies amongst us. But don't expect long, serious pontifications on the subject of the financial crisis that's sent the western world bankrupt in my absence; if my bank wants to bow out ungracefully, they're welcome to take my overdraft with them.

Now then: my stats tell me that more people than ever have been visiting the Disco while I've been away. But why oh why do so few leave postcards to let me know that they've passed through? Ah well - when I start sharing mine, perhaps you'll share yours, too.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Come back, New Man - all is forgiven! But not forgiven enough to take you on holiday with me ...


Hoorah, I'm off on my jollies - well, almost. By this time tomorrow, I should be just about touching down at Beziers airport, all ready to take to the hire car and motor off in the direction of the Riviera Coast; no father, no film crew ... just me and me fella, getting away from it all for seven days. If there are internet cafes to be found along the way (and if I can be bothered scrabbling around and adapting to a French keyboard), I'll update you as I go. If not, I'm back on Sunday October 12th (and if I can work out how to use the new camera, I'll even share some snaps). Meanwhile, have great fun, y'all! Keep dancing while I'm away.

For those of you who haven't read it yet, here's my latest rant again:

Lads: off to university? Then take the advice of ‘Zoo’ magazine and spend Freshers’ Week scouting bars for the fittest undie-graduates. Stuck for something to do while your missus gets the dinner on? You’ll find hundreds of fit girls waiting for you to Assess their Breasts in this week’s ‘Nuts’. Or you could go and play the Fake Orgasm Challenge at ‘Loaded’ online before joining the hunt for the Nation’s Tastiest Tush. Now it’s not often I side with the Conservative Party’s education spokesman Michael Gove, but I applauded loudly when he recently slammed such magazines for “reinforcing a shallow approach towards women, who are generally painted as permanently, lasciviously, uncomplicatedly available” and attempted to start a general debate about the “instant-hit hedonism” celebrated by today’s “modern men”. But before we retread the churned up water that surrounds these age-old themes, there’s another question to be answered: whatever happened to New Man?

New Man – last spotted shopping for organic yoghurt in the farmers’ market, circa 1996 - wasn’t afraid to show his feelings, was proud to be in touch with his feminine side and made sure that his partner always, always came first. He wore his heart on his soft cotton shirt (carefully avoiding the obligatory crust of baby sick), eschewed rock bands in favour of female singer-songwriters and, though he may not have been responsible for bringing home the bacon, was happy to bake the family’s bread. Okay, New Man was as much of a sad cliché as Old Lads the Gallagher brothers, Vinnie Jones, Guy Ritchie and their oikish ilk have become - but at least women could actually relate to him. He read books, spoke softly and found sporting events irksome. He did his share of the housework, paid attention to personal hygiene and was generally happy – and here’s the rub – to be a grownup. But did today’s women want a New Man? Evidently not.

Instead of taking a pop at ‘Zoo’, ‘Nuts’ and ‘Loaded’, let’s put TV programmes like ‘Loose Women’ – the tip of a murky iceberg that quickly melts to reveal such gems as ‘Chat’ magazine, spray-on tans and huge queues for “me time” at the latest “pampering hotspot” - under the sociological lens instead. Every weekday - bookended by adverts for confectionery that “give girls new ways to be naughty” (‘accidently’ soaking the gardener with a hose, lusting after the next door neighbour, etc) - a panel of four female drones, their personalities shoehorned to appeal to stereotypes as surely as the Spice Girls were manufactured to dominate the charts (the posh one, the ladette, the glamour puss and the down-to-earth frump) offer bland, knee-jerk opinions on contentious burning issues such as what makes women go phwooar and whether it’s okay to sleep in your mascara. Are you watching, Mr Gove? Because if such a formula sums up – or possibly even dictates to - the real lives of today’s real women (and viewing figures tell us that it must), no wonder New Man swiftly reclaimed his Neanderthal roots. If I lived with a woman who finds Carol McGiffin’s endless moans about her non-existent sex life interesting and makes time every day to tune into Jane McDonald bleating on about life with her mam, you’d find me swigging lager in the nearest pole dancing club before you could say Arsenal, too.

Now I’m not saying that either boy’s magazines (let’s face it, there’s absolutely nothing manly about a ‘Zoo’ reader) or desperate housewife TV shows are to blame for the current state of play between the sexes, but the words ‘symptom’ and ‘catalyst’ spring to mind. So girls: are you bored with the overgrown toddler sitting in the corner belching lager, scratching his nuts and thinking about having a Wii? Instead of texting the Uptight Harpies to complain about him, try making yourself interesting instead – it’s the New Woman’s way to be naughty, and it’s very, very good indeed.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hoorah ...


... I've cheered up! And no, my lifted mood has nothing to do with drinking copious amounts of my favourite autumn tipple (see recipe below); the sudden upturn has more to do with the other good things in life (a fabulous evening out with Molly Mudd, who has taken to wearing a little bird in hair and looks all the more gorgeous for it; a really lovely face-to-face interview with Jamie Oliver yesterday; pipeline plans for a week in the Loire Valley that suddenly feels within easy reach) than what I'm tipping down my gullet. Okay, so I have a bit of a cold - well so what? Things could be worse - and they're not. So, let's raise a glass to life itself ...

... cheers!
If you’re sick of listening to grumbles about the summer that never was, you’ve come to the right place. Autumn is the start of a food and drink season that only really warms up when there’s a chill in the air. Take cider. At long last, we can wave goodbye to those glossy advertising campaigns that urge you to take a pint of the apple nectar on ice. Fill your glass with something that’s guaranteed to kill those cheery, fruity flavours stone dead? I don’t think so. Now that (what should have been the) sun has disappeared for another year, the Animal Disco recommends that, to welcome you back to the cosy fold, you take your cider in another direction altogether.

Somehow less contrived than mulled wine, warm cider offers uniquely comforting depths. Trust your instincts (and your tastebuds) regarding which cider to use, bearing in mind that you can’t go too far wrong with a still, cloudy variety. Pour about four pints of cider in a big, sturdy pan, adding a sliced orange, a drizzle of runny honey, a handful of cloves and eight cinnamon sticks to the blend as you slowly bring it up to a simmer, taking great care not to allow it to boil. Ten minutes later, it’s ready to sup. Some folk add a drop of brandy or rum to the finished brew, others swear by allowing a pat of unsalted butter to melt into the melange. However you choose to dress it up, it’s the taste of autumn in a mug.

Monday, September 22, 2008

September Slump


Is it just me, or does everybody find the process of crossing the flimsy bridge that takes us from one season to the next slightly ... I dunno, if not entirely melancholia-inducing, then certainly a bit disconcerting? I could blame my current existential crisis on the fact that the weather refuses to comply with the calendar (Indian summer? Oh, spare me! This is Britain; we just don't do any kind of summer), but that's far too simple an explanation for my strangely delicate mood. Seasonally Affected Disorder, then? ADD would be closer to the truth. For I just cannot, no matter how hard I try, lift myself out of the lethargy verging on doldrums that sank upon me towards the end of last week.

Okay, getting ridiculously, childishly and unnecessarily drunk - partly at the opening of the gorgeous new Champneys spa, no less! - on Thursday evening didn't help my end-of-week mood; I spent Friday feeling physically and emotionally fragile, and hugely insecure about the wellbeing and feelings of those around me, without there being any solid, grounded reasons for feeling that way. I started Saturday in a much more positive frame of mind (and got loads of work done, too), only to sink back into the glums again after a particularly fractious (but not that unusual) spate of dealing with Medad. The BF (sorry, Dollface, for using your shorthand) eased the situation by taking us all to the Old Crown in Kelston for proper, pub-grub fish'n'chips eaten watching the sun set from the inn's orchard and the landlord arranged a special audience with his lovely rottweiler just for me (and the dog), but still, I came home feeling deflated and wanting to go bleeeurgh. Sunday was slightly better; after an air-clearing session with the BF (which loosely translates as me letting off steam about Medad and the BF patiently listening before giving the kitchen a clean-up makeover that's left it looking like the kind of culinary surgery that Gordon Ramsay might cook in), I spent a couple of hours in the sun on top of a nearby hill, flirting with squirrels while He practised his swing on the golf course. And then we went and reviewed Roger Monkhouse at the Comedy Cavern (ha ha ha! I'm happy to report that he was excellent - imagine my mood if that hadn't been the case!), and the weekend slowly turned into Monday ... and here we are.

I'm sorry about feeling sorry for myself because life's very good indeed, and I'm fully aware that not everybody is fortunate enough to feel that way, so I deserve a good shaking. As it is, I'm going to cook my way out of this emotional quagmire (see below), then put the results in the fridge for tomorrow night's dinner, as tonight is Curry Club so somebody else is cooking for me. I'll shut up now. Thank you for listening! See you soon.

Cook your way out of an Emotional Quagmire with the Animal Disco!
Courgettes, acorn and butternut squash; peppers, carrots and fabulous apples: put ‘em together and what have you got? A huge, colourful, wallet-friendly pile of September good stuff ... that can overwhelm rather than inspire the home cook. So here’s what to do.

Strip the squash of their thick skins, strip out the seeds (but don’t throw them away) and cut the flesh into chunks. Roughly chop the unpeeled carrots, courgettes, peppers and apples (yes, the apples too) into similar-sized cubes, adding a chopped onion to the mix. Tip the lot into a carrier bag (bear with us!), drizzle the contents with olive oil and a couple of grinds of sea salt and massage the lot together before tipping them – in a single layer – onto a preheated oven tray before roasting for around 50 minutes in a moderately hot oven.

Meanwhile, pour boiling water over a bowlful of cous cous, adding black pepper, a handful of fresh sage, some chopped tomatoes and a glug of balsamic vinegar once the water has been absorbed. Fifteen minutes before the end of cooking time, sprinkle the vegetables with the seeds from the squash. When everything looks sumptuously soft (and possibly a bit charred around the edges, which adds to the overall flavour), stir the roasted vegetables into the cous cous, whizz some tahini, plain yoghurt, lemon juice and honey together and serve with the cold dressing drizzled over the hot vegetable salad. Serve with roast pork, lamb or grilled fish fillets, and you’ve got September on a plate; if that's not food to lift the mood, I don't know what is.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Reality Bites


Scenario: a local food critic is being followed around Bath by a film crew making a ‘reality TV style’ documentary about local food critics.

Director: what about here?

Local food critic: here? It’s a tourist clip joint!

D: well couldn’t you pretend to like it?

LFC: wouldn’t that sort of defeat the object?

D: (irritably) okay. Move on, guys!

LFC: (two minutes later, around the corner) what about here? I really like it here

D: here? But if this documentary goes national, nobody will know where we are. We need A Big Name

LFC: in Bath, this place is ‘A Big Name’

D: (sighing) okay then - here

D: (two minutes later, inside) no, don’t sit there; we want you by the kitchen – the best table in the house, and all that

LFC: in a corridor?

D: our viewers will expect you to sit by the kitchen...

LFC: okay, let’s sit at the worst table in the house, then

D: ... and order foie gras

LFC: they don’t do foie gras!

D: well do a piece to camera about how you successfully campaigned to stop them serving foie gras!

LFC: but I didn’t. Anyway, I know what I’m having...

D: (horrified) you can’t order a burger!

LFC: I love the burgers here!

D: well tell our viewers that they’re made of that Kobi beef stuff

LFC: but they’re not

D: and that waitress was terrible! Ask for the manager and complain about the service.

LFC: but she was lovely!

D: (exasperated) well complain about something else then. I know – have a fight with the chef!

LFC: but I don’t know the chef

D: Jesus – are you sure you’re a food critic?

(to be continued over 36 hours of footage that eventually gets binned)

Reality TV, eh? Life as it happens.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

And now for something completely different (AKA normal service has been resumed)


After the sort-of seriousness of the previous post, I decided it was time to be silly again ... please find below my tribute to the Scotch Egg. And if you're wondering about the suitability of the accompanying photo, you try finding a dog-related picture to match the blurb. Anyway, those puppies are cuter than cute, therefore much deserving of a starring role here.


Take a hard boiled egg, wrap it in sausage meat, roll it in breadcrumbs, deep-fry it and give it a nonsensical name that confuses its origins: the Scotch egg (invented by posh London food emporium Fortnum and Mason in 1738) is about as eccentrically British as food gets.

Originally an intrinsic component of the Georgian-era picnic hamper, these days we’re more likely to associate Scotch Eggs with desperation food purchased in 24-hour garages rather than anything more elegant. Posh delicatessens offer excellent reproductions of the original article, but the more commonly know, bastardised examples of the genre are likely to made with tiny, battery-farmed eggs (complete with greying ring twixt white and yolk) and wrapped in ‘meat by-product’ that claims to be ‘28% pork’ and is probably around 60% fat. What those orange ‘breadcrumbs’ are made of is anybody’s guess, but once you’ve ripped through the plastic wrapper and torn your way into what can only be described as a full English breakfast three weeks past it’s sell-by date, orange dye and ground rusk is the least of your worries. And yet, Scotch Eggs are a disturbingly compulsive addiction. Find them in the supermarket above the pork pies and right next to close cousins the picnic/savoury/party eggs – weird, golf-ball sized mini-versions of big Scottie, stuffed with a dry, crumbling adaptation of egg mayonnaise. Who, exactly, eats these victual aberrations? We do - by our millions, apparently. And you know you’re one of them ...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

There's a moose loose? Let's keep it that way!


As regular readers are already aware, I'm not that big on political commentating. But today, I'm going to make an exception to that state of affairs, if only in my usual, second hand way.

I urge you to read Paul Theroux's gorgeous piece, as it appeared in yesterday's Guardian. It's called 'The Bloody Rise of the Vote Hunter' (go on, clickety-click) and it really, really struck a chord with me. I bet it does with you, too - either way, please let me know?

As for Sarah Palin winning 'the feminist vote' in America - well, to say pah to that would be putting it mildly. If there's anything left of the original cause itself, she's put it back around a hundred years. But hey, that's just my opinion. And as we've already established, I'm not that big on political commentating ...

Enjoy what's left of the weekend, y'all!

Friday, September 12, 2008

... when you say nothing at all?


So, was it the life-changing experience I'd set myself up for? All will be revealed in good time ... but that time is not now. I'm exhausted, I'm behind deadlines (of course!) and I'm - for once! - stuck for words. So I'm going to take my own advice (below) and keep quiet about how the London junket experience Rocked me, thereby (hopefully) avoiding the trap of falling into tragic clichés when recounting my latest set of adventures. But before we go there, may I just whisper an advance apology to the BF, who has just bought himself a snazzy new iPhone-type thing/gadget, but has most definitely NOT, in any way, provided me with any of the inspiration for the following ramble. Oh, and might I also extend a warm welcome to Marmite Lover, who has just gained herself an Access All Areas pass to the Animal Disco. If you've got any coffee break time left after bearing with me, go and check her out - you won't be disappointed. As for me: I'll be back over the weekend, by which time I might have caught up on some sleep!



Blah, blah ... blah?


“Yeah, no; at the end of the day, I’m like, loving that you get what I’m saying”. Sound familiar? It should do. Because all around us, everyday, everybody is talking in clichés ... and saying absolutely nothing at all. We fill up valuable airspace with chatter that flaunts a palpable lack of substance, integrity or consideration for others, while thinking before we speak has become an archaic notion. “I see they’re all off to Beijing for the Olympics/sending more troops home from Iraq/putting fuel prices up again,” we say flippantly, as if ‘they’ are nothing to do with ‘us’. Meanwhile, the story beneath the headline is of far less importance than the ability to reiterate the big-text information; if we manage to sound as though we’re informed about current affairs, job done.

But even hours of flippant, thoughtless guff are marginally preferable to enduring endless protracted lectures revolving solely around the advantages of having a BlackBerry, the pitfalls of being registered with Facebook and the glories of the new iPhone - ironically enough, three devices supposed to enhance communication. And what do the techno slaves do when all their connections finally run smoothly? Text each other with yet more banal inanities, usually involving information about ‘upgrades’. As for iPhone man’s status within the global village - he’s had his eyes opened by a reality check that involved a steep learning curve and actualised his skill set. “Ultimately, I just needed to think outside the box,” drones yet another poor sucker as he exits Carphone Warehouse, his bank account drained and his Tedious rating sky high . “I was literally dead on my feet, but there’s nothing worse than ...”. Aaargh! If only he’d spent the time wasted on a soon-to-be obsolete gadget that’s never going to work properly anyway on a trip to the bookshop instead, where Roget Thesaurus swiftly puts all those who abuse the word ‘literally’ back on the right track and the experiences of millions upon millions of original, genuine blue sky thinkers prove that there are, in fact, many, many situations far worse than being tired when trying to network your PDA.

“A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue,” whispers Truman Capote from the shelves. "That is the happiest conversation where there is no competition, no vanity, but a calm, quiet interchange of sentiments,” Samuel Johnson responds. “But a human being cannot resist the opportunity to reveal himself and express his personality, which conversation gives him,” Agatha Christie counters. “Every time, he will give himself away”. Yes indeed, Aggie – but these days, such revelation is tragic to behold. Meanwhile, what all three of our decorous dialogue devotees failed to account for in their ponderings is that a day would come when it didn’t matter if we all stopped making sense when talking – because we’ve all stopped listening anyway. For proof of this fact, consider how many people you know consistently, persistently start every sentence with the word “I”; the ‘me’ generation are a bunch of raging egotists who care little – if at all – about you think, say or do. Little wonder, then, that even the most basic conversational civilities have become redundant. Ask somebody how they are, and you’re likely to be met with an abrupt, ill-mannered “I’m good, yeah”. Say thank you to the waiter who brought you your cup of coffee, and you’ll be told it was “no problem”. Goodbye has been replaced by “later”, few youngsters can relate any given experience without starting every sentence with “I was, like ...” (usually followed by “OHMYGOD!”, as though that phrase itself is all the description you need), and the word ‘random’ has come to randomly replace all critical faculty. (“What did you think of the film?” “It was, like, random”).

Ultimately, there’s nothing worse. I’m just, like, eeeew.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Rockin'!


PR people call them press trips, others call them junkets - some even call them work. I, however, call it a great day out: I'm off to see 'We Will Rock You' at London's Dominion theatre, before which I get to interview Arlene Phillips, Ben Elton and ... OHMYGOD, BRIAN MAY! Okay, so I'll be just one of a group worshipping at the feet of the world's greatest rock guitarist, but so what? It's the closest to Freddie I'll ever get, and I fully intend to make full use of the experience. And after all that, I get to lay my weary bones at one of the poshest hotels in London - really, what's not to like? Well, the nerves that are currently turning my skeleton and everything it holds together to jelly for one thing. The fact that I'll miss the second part of 'Lost in Austen' on TV for another. Oh lordy, what's wrong with me? If life is a cabaret, I'm about to take to the stage (albeit clinging onto someone else's coat tails yet again).

Anyhoo, I'm I'm fully aware that not everybody shares my Queen fixation. So when I come back, I'll not only have the forthcoming trip to fill you in on - I'll also be going on and on about my mixed feelings towards Vanessa Redgrave in 'The Year of Magical Thinking', the renovation of The Bear (pub) up the road from my house AND a funny story about Jamie Oliver to share. If, that is, the world doesn't implode on itself first; now that'd be a guitar solo we'd never forget ...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

I think I actually preferred Old McDonald...


2004: American independent film maker Morgan Spurlock’s acclaimed documentary ‘Supersize Me’ is setting the chattering classes, erm, chattering, there’s a media storm brewing over the contents of our children’s lunchboxes and fast food is fast gaining a reputation for being the UK’s most lethal WMD – the perfect time, then, for Venue to send a weapons inspector off to review the Bath branch of McDonalds. To summarise the ensuing report, I most certainly didn’t have a very happy meal – and I never went back again.

Since then, Morgan has been off on a fruitless search for Osama Bin Laden, Jamie Oliver has become the nation’s favourite school dinner lady and I’ve somehow managed to supersize myself (a situation I’m putting to rights at the time of writing). Meanwhile, things have moved on for McDonalds, too. Ronald seems to have retired (oh, if only this review didn’t have to be closely scrutinized by lawyers; I’d love to make a bad joke about glam rock stars who fall from grace here), his cheery countenance sidelined to make room for cheery cartoon farmyard animals and TV ads featuring cheery families foraging for fresh vegetables. A new McDonalds website – www.makeupyourownmind.co.uk – has been set up in order to offer an ‘access all areas’ tour of the company itself, while multitudinous branches across the country have been the subject of major makeovers. In the Bath city centre branch, unforgiving neon strips and garish plastic furniture have been replaced by subtle pools of light, coffee’n’cream paintwork and leather seats. Staff wear uniforms designed by couturier to the stars Bruce Oldfield, Vettriano/Hopper style prints adorn the walls and there’s free WiFi access for all; in a totally bland, unchallenging way, it’s actually quite a good look. But what lurks behind the window dressing?

These days, you’ll find porridge and bagels amongst the double egg and bacon McMuffin™ breakfasts, Happy Meals™ come with a fresh fruit bag and eggs come from free range hens. Zeitgeist? We’re la-la-la-la-la, lovin’ it. According to the McDonalds website, there’s even a low fat option in amongst the deli sandwiches. But our server (efficient, friendly and polite, despite the scrum queuing up at the tills) didn’t have a clue what I was talking about when I asked which one it was, so I had to make do with sweet chilli chicken on brown bread (sans cheese), while he went for an Oriental BBQ beef meal (he said it was his way of paying homage to the Beijing 47; I say he’d probably have preferred a Big Mac™ but was too afraid to defy my instructions regarding trying something new). Elsewhere, the Pound Saver Menu™ makes it easy for the credit crunch aware to feed a family of four for under a fiver and, as long as you’re not vegetarian, the Salads Plus™ selection pays lip service to Nanny (just don’t follow it up with the omnipresent McFlurry™).

But despite the image makeover, it’s still very much business as usual at McD’s. The roll that kept my deli sandwich together was indeed fresh and brown, but the chicken within tasted only of the very, very sweet chilli dressing that bound it – I was left with a sugar-rush headache and a cloying aftertaste that clung to my gums for hours after eating it. His Oriental BBQ beef was, I’d guess, a similar experience (though meatier), but I can’t vouch for it personally because he scoffed the lot, making the most of the fact that he was actually being allowed to indulge in what is, for this little family at least, a rare ‘treat’.

At this point, it would be easy to totally denigrate McDonalds (albeit in a subtle, law suit defying way), awarding the head honchos axis of evil status while mewling over the prospects for a generation of obese, sugar- and fat-addicted kids who have never developed the ability to use cutlery. But hey, we read the Guardian - we all know the facts; do what McDonalds tell you to do, and make up your own mind. As for your intrepid reporter, my minds already made up: a return visit four years hence would be way too soon.